How I tried to become a Victoria's Secret Angel in just 12 days
As the world gets set for the latest Victoria's Secret catwalk extravaganza, Ellie Pithers finds out just how hard it is to earn those coveted Angel's wings
"Live like an Angel". That's the slogan adorning the cosmetic bags for sale in Victoria's Secret stores.
"All right," I thought, "I will." Which is how I found myself parsing the Internet and drawing up a spreadsheet with "Name of Angel", "Banned foods" and "No. of hours of exercise per day" as column headings on my master document entitled: "How to Live Like an Angel".
My curiosity had been piqued by the news that the Victoria's Secret show - once a simple lingerie catwalk presentation, now a circus of super-toned bodies complete with angel wings writhing down a glitter runway for an annual production that reportedly costs €12 million - was coming to this side of the pond from America for the first time, showing in London's Earl's Court on December 2nd.
In 2013 this circus generated sales of €5.5 billion in bras and knickers for Victoria's Secret's parent company, L Brands, and a distribution of 390 million lingerie catalogues.
Equally mind-bending are the stories of models subsisting solely on water for two days prior to the show; the Instagram pictures of them planking furiously (whilst remaining curiously sweat-free) in the gym. Most fascinating was the email I received announcing that this year there would be not one multimillion-dollar "Fantasy Bra" in the show, but two!
At this point I should point out that I have a number of "issues", as the Americans would say, with Victoria's Secret. First, there's the infantilising effect of dressing grown women in fairy wings.
Second, the regressive nature of parading said - admittedly incredibly hot - women down a catwalk wearing stripper heels, and asking them to flirt en route with whoever is performing at the show (past acts include Justin Bieber, Maroon 5 and Kanye West).
Most recently, I've taken issue with the harmful message promoted by their October advertising campaign, in which the slogan "The Perfect Body" was plastered over the thin, toned, tanned bodies of 10 models.
The frequent riposte to these criticisms is that because Victoria's Secret models' bodies are muscly, rather than skeletal, they are projecting a healthy body image. According to Sophia Neophitou, the stylist and collection creative director of Victoria's Secret: "The girls are like athletes, they work incredibly hard. [Alessandra Ambrosio] is not a size four. She's curvy, she's voluptuous. We celebrate women in this environment."
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the celebrations. Or maybe I'm just jealous of their physiques. Either way, you can't knock something until you've tried it.
How hard can it be, this Angel malarkey? I draw up a totally unscientific exercise and diet plan based on my Google-based research, and resolve to live like an Angel for 12 days to find out.
Every day in Angel World starts with a fitness class that introduces one to previously unheard of muscle groups. I decide to go to a 6.45am class at a fitness studio because its website promises "oh so sexy tone and definition". After 45 minutes of flapping my arms around and a riotous bouncy ball section involving press-ups with my feet balanced (theoretically) on a red squishy ball, I feel less than sexy. To distract myself, I consult the master spreadsheet. This instructs me to ingest a David Kirsch protein shake for breakfast. Kirsch goes by the moniker "master of the ass" and has trained former Angel Heidi Klum, so even though his Berry Blast and protein sachet tastes like cake mix, I drink it all. On the way to an appointment, I accidentally eat a sweet and am forced to spit it out. After a lunch of steamed salmon and spinach, and a protein shake for dinner, I am left wishing I'd just swallowed it.
I attend another fitness class despite waking up unable to extend my arms above shoulder-height. Today I am flying to Dubai for a feature, which somewhat scuppers my diet, but at least I'm heading to an alcohol-free zone. I fear my protein sachets might lead to a misunderstanding at the United Arab Emirates border, so opt for salad in the airport and virtuously sip water on the plane. The absence of wine combined with a wailing baby means I snatch half an hour's sleep.
The phrase that recurs most on my Angel spreadsheet is "Ballet Beautiful". This is a New York-based fitness fad dreamt up by a former ballerina, Mary Helen Bowers. Angels Lily Aldridge, Erin Heatherton and Karlie Kloss are all hooked, so I plug in the DVD, whack down a towel in the hotel room and spend 60 minutes making circles with my limbs to civilised waves of classical music. Mary Helen has a cartoonish vocal intonation that suggests you are inordinately dumb. Her routine, which works the abs and gluteal muscles and builds core strength, is exhausting but effective.
DAYS 4, 5 & 6
Dubai may cater to most obnoxious whims, but unfortunately the "raw food" diet favoured by Adriana Lima, the longest-serving Angel at 14 years and counting, is not one of them. Instead, I eat meat and carrot sticks and not much else. Every day I perspire for 60 minutes with Mary Helen, who is starting to get on my nerves, mainly due to the fact that her only concession to fatigue involves stretching her leg over her head. My legs, however, are feeling leaner and there appears to be some definition to my abs.
My plane back home is delayed by five hours and, as a carb- and sugar-free entity, the only thing I can eat on the flight is a chewy, sponge-sized piece of beef. I am beginning to grudgingly accept the superhuman faculties of the Angels, even if they only extend to depriving oneself of complex carbohydrates.
DAYS 8, 9 AND 10
After three days of just juice (Dutch model Doutzen Kroes's preferred method), I manage to squeeze into a pair of black Topshop jeans I've had since I was 19. Is this due to superior tugging strength or a more streamlined silhouette? I decide the latter. Hungry, and in need of inspiration, I visit London's flagship Victoria's Secret shop. It's 8pm, and I'd assumed it would be empty. Instead, it is packed: with teenagers, some of whom are doing dance routines in the changing rooms and taking selfies next to displays of wings; with women stocking up on bras; and with some seedy-looking men. The shop smells of Bombshell, an overpowering burnt sugar scent. I buy a set of miniature perfumes with names such as Sexy, Very Sexy, and Tease and resolve to spray them every time I feel famished.
Today's fitness fix is Barrecore. To cheer myself up, I pull on a pair of Bodyism's new Octavia leggings (former Angel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley swears by them) sent by a sympathetic friend who works at Net-A-Porter. The label says (deep breath) they are made from a material infused with bioactive crystals that absorb body heat and emit infra-red rays that promote collagen synthesis which reduces cellulite. I can't yet vouch for the cellulite-busting part, but they certainly make me feel and look trim. On the way to work I buy a green juice and feel miserable.
Bolstered by the knowledge that I can eat a pizza in under 24 hours, I blitz my Ballet Beautiful DVD and treat myself to an egg-white omelette for breakfast. Then, I collect my Angel wings for the photograph (far left). According to Neophitou, models often cry when anointed with wings. "The tears come from such a genuine place - it's pure joy. You get a wing, it's like you've graduated somehow," she says. "Some of the wings weigh 40lb. That's a lot of weight to carry on your back, making it look effortless." I am handed a pair of lilac, crystal-encrusted ostrich feather wings. Do I detect a tear as I hoist the magical appendages on to my back? No - but I do feel a rush of something that feels strangely like euphoria.
A few slices of pizza later, and I start to feel nauseous. Perhaps I'm suffering from spinach withdrawal? I poke my newly taut stomach and contemplate the damage I am slowly wreaking. While the juicing and the endless arm-waggling has elicited a raft of negative emotions from boredom through to exhaustion, I have enjoyed the firm, lean shapes my muscles have begun to assume. What have I learnt from the Angel diet? It feels nice to fit into jeans you purchased as a teenager, and it takes dedication. Not for nothing are these the best-paid models in the world. But is it worth all the sacrifice and effort to assume a marketing man's brief of what sexy is? I think we all know the answer to that.